Thousands of teachers who were given permission to work from home are expected to report for duty starting from this Monday after President Cyril Ramaphosa relaxed the Covid-19 regulations to alert level 1.
Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Wednesday officially announcing the relaxation of the Covid 19 regulations. He said this is largely due to the low levels of infections in the country and the high state of readiness of the health facilities to cope with future outbreaks.
On Friday the department of basic education directed that over 22 500 teachers with comorbidities and over 60 years old who were granted special concession to work away from home because of their vulnerability to the coronavirus should return to their post.
Teachers who were granted special leave are those suffering from conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney diseases, cancer, poorly controlled type II diabetes, advanced HIV and severe obesity.
The concession was secured at the collective labour bargaining chamber for teachers early this year in terms of Act 78 of 1998 of Employment of Educators Act. The agreement also made it clear that teachers who are granted special leave will work offsite only for the duration of the alert level 3 and 2 of the National State of Disaster due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The affected people will therefore have to report for duty with effect from Monday, 21st September 2020. If, however, some individuals are still not well, they are advised to follow the normal sick leave protocols,” said the department.
Teachers unions have welcomed the announcement but also warned against complacency saying that the department of education, school management teams and school governing bodies should ensure they enforce Covid 19 regulations to minimise the spread of the virus in schools. This against the backdrop of shocking reports last week that about 98 learners at Ethembeni High School in the Eastern Cape, have tested positive for the Covid-19 at the time when they are sitting for their trial examinations.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation (Naptosa)’s chief executive, Basil Manuel said the announcement did not come as a complete surprise because this was agreed to by all the teacher unions and the department of basic education earlier this year.
“All what we (Naptosa) want is that both the department and the school leadership should uphold all the health and safety measures to ensure they protect learners against the Covid 19, including those teachers who will be returning to work,” said Manuel.
The department also called on the provincial departments to practise and promote the established health and safety protocols in schools. “Said the department: “School Management Teams and School Governing Bodies must ensure that the requirements of social distancing are be met. Appropriate adjustments must be made to enable schools to adhere to social distancing requirements. Proper adjustment should also be made to the school timetable so that a percentage of the total learner population attend school at a particular time.”
The return of teachers with comorbidities means most substitute teachers will lose their jobs – mostly young unemployed but qualified educators – who have been holding the fort for those working from home. However, the department has advised the provincial departments to honour the contractual agreements entered into between them and the substitute teachers and also see how they can deploy some of them.
“There are instances where substitute teachers have been appointed in the place of educators who have been granted a concession to work from home. As teachers with comorbidities return to school on Monday, the Provincial Education Department should honour their contractual obligations entered into between the substitute educators and the provincial department,” said the statement of the basic department.